Shut up, sit down and Listen: I am San Francisco’s Homeless Expert

Today, the streets of San Francisco resemble a crime scene of homeless tent encampments. And the crime scene forensics suggests political enablers at City Hall have found a scapegoat.

Incredible, unbelievable and unacceptable 65 tent homeless encampment Fulton and Larkin Streets one block from San Francisco City Hall 4/23/2020

COVID-19 has robbed the San Francisco hotel industry; leaving it with 30,000 vacant hotel rooms. But for the San Francisco hotel industry to offer to house the homeless temporarily is akin to a jailhouse informant looking to cut a deal for a lighter sentence. This “offer” is really an offer to help the San Francisco hotel industry, not the homeless.

But for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to jump on the offer, and pass an ordinance to spend almost $2 million a day to house the homeless until we reach post-COVID-19 in response to the SF Department of Health “Shelter-in-place” order announced by SF Mayor London Breed is beyond disingenuous.

This is scapegoating using the COVID-19 pandemic by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who have no clue on how best to clear the streets of San Francisco of an out of control homeless problem.

No one should be surprised if most of the San Francisco homeless who are being robbed of their respect, view this latest grandstanding and condescending act by City Hall as another out of sight out of mind homeless project. It has been reported that some homeless who have moved into these temporary hotels are balking when asked to return to one of the homeless shelters where 98 staff and residents tested positive for the Coronavirus.

One block from the MSC homeless shelter in San Francisco where 98 staff and residents tested positive for the Coronavirus

As reported, “The Board of Supervisors last week passed an ordinance requiring The City to procure 8,250 hotel rooms for shelter space, 7,000 of which are to be used for people experiencing homelessness.” Once fully implemented the cost to The City will be $58.6 million per month with the hope of about 85% being reimbursed by federal and state governments.

Political pity for the homeless, nor political quests to earn brownie points towards the next election will solve San Francisco’s embarrassing homeless situation. And an ordinance (ploy) to house the homeless temporarily will only exacerbate the problem. And if San Francisco lawmakers think they will be reimbursed even 10% for this gamble, I suggest City Hall invest in Powerball lottery tickets instead of waiting on FEMA. Or at best expect the federal government to pick up the tab for 1250 hotel rooms set aside for first responders and quarantined individuals.

It is ironic that I would credit the movie industry for my love of San Francisco. I do not care much about movies. That said, my earliest recollection that San Francisco was special to me was when I heard actress Tippi Hedren just mention the name, San Francisco, before driving out to Bodega Bay in the movie “The Birds.” My heart skipped a beat. Watching the filmed chase scene in the movie “Bullitt” will make my heart race right passed the Volkswagon filming error on a San Francisco hill.

However, as a teenager in the 70s, I knew I was in love with The City just hearing the theme music to the crime drama, “The Streets of San Francisco”, a Quinn Martin Production.” My siblings and I lost it with more excitement when we recognized areas of The City appearing on the TV screen more then if we met the stars of the show, Karl Malden, or Michael Douglass.

1970s TV crime drama “The Streets of San Francisco”

As a teenager, I never envisioned myself as homeless or living on the streets of San Francisco. But I have been homeless since 2009, living in my new at the time (one-year-old Ford F-150) after losing my home to foreclosure.

I cringe when hearing some blame the sub-prime lending scandal of 2007–8 for their foreclosure. My dignity will not permit me to blame others for me becoming homeless. It was all my fault. I knew exactly what the documents I signed said. No regrets and no chance of criminal prosecution. However, I have met many who have become homeless due to no fault of their own. Regardless of the reason, the homeless should never be pitied but should always be respected if we as a city have a ghost of a chance at seeing the real beautiful streets of San Francisco ever again.

Though I was daffy enough to think my plan to live in my truck would take no longer than one year, I can honestly say, ten years of living in a pickup were 90% fun and made me a homeless expert — a term I otherwise hate. My experience tells me there are at least 835,000 “Homeless experts” living in San Francisco.

And though I brag today and am proud of the way I handled being homeless, I do know there are many homeless who need and appreciate a lot of help they receive from San Francisco’s many homeless programs.

Me cruising the streets of Oakland, CA in my new Model T 2/2020

As a homeless expert, who has never received city service assistance; mainly due to distrust, I offer a stern rebuke after reading of the Board of Supervisors law to temporarily house the homeless in hotels: Anyone daffy enough to think San Francisco can move 7000 of The City’s homeless off the streets and into hotel rooms should only be permitted to pass gas, not laws.

It is clear to me that the Coronavirus pandemic is being used by the legislative body of The City as an excuse to hide the homeless, not help the homeless. And frankly, I am disgusted but not surprised based on a history of elected supervisors passing laws that solve nothing.

Last year, San Francisco recorded 450 deaths due to being homeless or poor. Now, the Board of Supervisors is claiming we must spend $2 million a day no less, to house 7000 homeless for the next three months to protect them from another deadly disease that elected city leaders allowed to spread way before COVID-19.

When San Francisco Mayor London Breed proposed an equally hide the homeless plan to warehouse the homeless, the Coalition on Homelessness and The City’s lawmakers let her have it. Then these same elected officials turned the dumb idea knob to, money is no object.

Screenshot of proposed Moscone Center West COVID-19 shelter. Photo: Street Sheet 4/6/2020

With an ordinance to spend nearly $60 million a month to house the homeless while we all “Shelter-in-place”, SF lawmakers are high-fiving their unanimous vote and veto-proof ordinance, which the mayor did not support and referred to the ordinance as “Unrealistic.”

Tent homeless encampment outside a San Francisco hotel on 2/22/2020

But in reading the ordinance the homeless should check the fine print aka good news/bad news.

Bad news: Post-COVID-19 will not offer a parachute to homelessness again. It will hand out eviction notices, so to speak, as hard as city pavement.

Good news: As an expert on being homeless, City Hall will never get to disrespect most of the 7000 homeless with this adult babysitting hotel scam. Most will not agree to move into a hotel room temporarily only to be kicked out when the coast is clear. (Shelter-in-place lifted)

Most homeless are like me. With priceless dignity, we will not sell our dignity for a nice but temporary $220.00 a night San Francisco hotel room.

City Hall if you want to help the homeless, shut up, sit down and listen to The City’s most successful homeless expert who knows how best to help the homeless: respect.

Homeless man reading his Bible on a San Francisco Embarcadero bench 3/26/2020

I was not alarmed about facing homelessness. Though I was raised in San Francisco, I lived in a Portland, Oregon park in the summer of 1981 and learned my first lesson/secret about being homeless: get into a daily routine. I will never forget and do credit that understanding for making the time fly by.

So, not missing a beat with what I was doing at the time I became homeless in 2009, (prison reform activism) I stayed too busy to trip off of being homeless. But what made me as I claim, being, “The most successful homeless person in San Francisco” is the facts:

I always remembered to vote.

I wrote and self-published an autobiography.

I wrote a ballot measure “Proposition I” that received 98,000 yes votes in a 2018 San Francisco election even though the ballot measure was defeated.

Three and a half years hosted a weekly public access TV program and uploaded to YouTube called, “The Angelic Troublemakers.”

And back where I started, I have my new prison reform website: Californiaclemency.org. And though Shelter-in-place has slowed me down on prison reform, I am using that time to advocate for us homeless.

The keys to my homeless success: a lot of cleanliness/hygiene for me, respect, and care for those I interact with whether at a coffee shop, restaurant or even other homeless. And of course, I had enough money to survive month to month.

With all that I have experienced while being homeless, I clearly see where our elected officials and well-intended journalists who report on the homeless have missed the mark. They lack the creative ability to see the homeless as elected officials or journalists. In other words, they think experiencing homelessness for one night as part of their jobs makes them experts on the subject.

If City Hall or those who write pity-me stories on being homeless or pat on the back stories for helping the homeless, are not willing to spend 10 years being homeless, they should at least, shut up, sit down and listen to an expert who has enjoyed being homeless not spending ten years complaining about being homeless.

For instance: paying the homeless $500.00 a month plus bonuses to keep and stay clean would be a nice start. (yes, there are reasonable strings attached to my proposal). $900 per homeless x 12 months x 5000 homeless who would qualify = $54,000,000.00.

But for City Hall to be content with shrugging its political shoulders and paying San Francisco’s hotel industry $58,600,000 a month or $8,371.00 per homeless, per month, housing the homeless due to COVID-19 solves nothing. Never mind the fact, the CDC is predicting a possible second wave of the Coronavirus.

I am aware of the 15,000 hotel rooms procured by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in what he has called “Operation Room key”, a program to house the homeless statewide during the shelter-in-place order, but I am looking to post-COVID-19.

I am also proposing something I call, “Kar keys.” No, I am not suggesting giving the homeless cars. But how I plan to bring inner-city youth to help the homeless include cars and is based on my ten years counseling troubled San Francisco youth. (Details withheld on purpose)

Before I finish I have a question for future homeless and our elected local, state, and federal leaders: no matter how many laws are passed to prevent landlords or mortgage holders from evicting or foreclosing on families due to COVID-19 there will be more homeless. Then what?

Finally, if I seem arrogant in demanding, “Shut up, sit down and listen”, consider this: This is how I have been and continue to be treated by the experts at City Hall for years.

1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

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